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Toronto Controlling infectious disease in our hospitals is not the same as cleaning a hotel room. And by suggesting that the jobs of hospital support workers should be contracted out, Ontario health minister George Smitherman is trivializing and demeaning the valuable work done by hospital support workers in controlling contagion in our hospitals, says Michael Hurley the president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) CUPE. OCHU represents over 30,000 hospital support workers who provide key services in Ontario hospitals including nursing, housekeeping, and dietary.

Its become very clear that when this minister tells the hospitals to find efficiencies he is actually telling them to extract the money from the lowest-paid workers in the hospital system, says Hurley, who is set to begin negotiations on behalf CUPE members in the hospital sector with the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA), tomorrow.

85 per cent of hospital support workers are women. Many of them, are people of colour. Using bully tactics, the minister is targeting workers who do dangerous work as members of the full clinical team in our hospitals, says Hurley, who points out that last year, during the SARS crisis, support workers were heroes. This year the minister is prepared to contract out their work, and throw them into poverty while cozying up to doctors, and offering them a 24 per cent wage increase, says Hurley.

In B.C. where the Campbell government broke hospital support workers collective agreements, put 8,000 hospital employees out of a job and slashed wages in the sector, contracting out services is not resulting in cost efficiencies, says Hurley.

The B.C. experience shows that contracting out laundry services is costing more and the linens are wet and soiled. Private contractors are also shortchanging supplies such as rubber gloves necessary to controlling infection.

This is what minister Smitherman is proposing for the sick and vulnerable in Ontario. This is a recipe for disaster. SARS made it clear to everyone, except it seems, to our current health minister that, cleaning hospitals is very skilled and dangerous work. There are many contagious organisms that hospital cleaners deal with each day and the importance of the work they do should never be minimized, adds Hurley.

For more information contact:
Michael Hurley President, OCHU (416) 884-0770
Stella Yeadon CUPE Communications (416) 578-8774